Believe it or not, dispensaries sell a lot more than just pot. With literally hundreds of cannabis products on the shelves, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when walking into a dispensary for the first time. Even if you’re just looking for some fresh bud, there’s hundreds of different strains to choose from that offer totally different effects. So where do you start?
Luckily, learning a few basics can help you determine what you’re looking for before you even step through the door. Combine that with our tips for talking to your budtender and you’ll be navigating your local dispensary like a pro in no time! Let’s start with the basics.
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The Basics: Sativa vs. Indica
Seemingly uncontrollable feelings of anxiety and paranoia? Melting into the couch? Zoning out for hours at a time? We’d venture to guess that nearly every cannabis consumer has experienced an uncomfortable feeling associated with being high.
The good news is, you can avoid this! Weed is like wine – every strain has a history, a unique cannabinoid profile, and different terpene compositions — the funny names you hear in the movies actually mean something!
You may have heard the terms indica and sativa used in conjunction with cannabis. These terms are used to describe the two major species of the cannabis plant capable of inducing markedly different effects.
Most people never have the chance to choose, they get the bud that they can find and hope for the best. However, legalization has created an opportunity for customers to make informed decisions about the strain they consume. Choosing the right strain for you and your body can make all the difference when trying to calm down, spur your appetite, fall asleep, or find creative inspiration.
Indica Weed Strains
Cannabis plants of the indica variety grow short and bushy. Their leaves are short, broad, and deeply serrated at the edges. Cannabis indica plants typically mature in 6 to 8 weeks, a relatively short period.
Commonly known as the ‘nighttime’ variety, the effect of cannabis indica is typically described as a body high. This is in reference to the physical relaxation and euphoria produced by indicas (likely due in part to the higher concentrations of CBD, CBN, and other soothing cannabinoids).
Indica strains have strong sedative properties and induce feelings of deep relaxation and even sleepiness.
If you’re looking for a strain for insomnia, an indica may be just what you need. Cannabis indica provides stress & anxiety relief and soothes nausea and pain. Oh, and the munchies? Those come from cannabis indica too.
If you are someone who is prone to anxiety or paranoia when consuming THC, an indica, or other high-CBD strain might help moderate those effects. CBD is shown to act as an antagonist to THC, mitigating its effects and reducing anxiety in many people.
Indicas slow you down and are categorized as ‘relaxing weed.’ Ask for:
Granddaddy Purp, Bubba Kush, Northern Lights, Afghan Kush/Afghani/Afgoo, Hash Plant, Sensi Star, MK Ultra, Herijuana, Kosher Kush, Master Kush, Blackberry Kush, Shishkaberry
Sativa Weed Strains
Cannabis plants of the sativa variety grow tall and lanky, much more than their indica cousins. Their leaves are long and narrow, with fine-toothed serration at the edges. Cannabis sativa plants typically take longer to mature than indicas, about 10 to 16 weeks.
Commonly known as the ‘daytime’ smoke, the effect of cannabis sativa is often described as a cerebral, or “head” high. Sativa strains induce feelings alertness, creativity, focus, and increased energy, which can help some people feel inspired, productive, and motivated.
Unfortunately, these same characteristics can induce racing thoughts and feelings of paranoia in certain consumers (especially new consumers who get a bit overzealous starting out). This may be able to be mitigated with CBD, so adding a bit of raw, organic hemp flower to your bowl or joint might help ease anxiety and paranoia associated with cannabis use.
Because of the euphoria and energy boost it provides, cannabis sativa may aid in managing symptoms of depression. That said, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, so talk to your care provider to learn more about using cannabis to treat depression.
Sativas get your mind moving and are categorized as ‘creative weed.’ Ask for:
Sour Diesel, Green Crack, Jack Herer, Durban Poison, Super Silver Haze, Super Lemon Haze, Purple Haze, Island Sweet Skunk, Ghost Train Haze, Acapulco Gold, East Coast Sour Diesel, Strawberry Cough
Hybrid Weed Strains
We must clarify that the above descriptions address the extremes, i.e. 100% indica and 100% sativa strains (the reality is a bit murkier, as sativas and indicas sit on more of a spectrum than in distinct categories). The majority of cannabis strains available today are really hybrids that can lean heavily in one direction or the other.
These ‘hybrid’ strains of cannabis selectively combine elements of both the indica and sativa species through the breeding process. Hybrids are popular options, as they maintain the most favorable aspects associated with each of their parents and are a diverse class of cannabis cultivars.
As a general rule, hybrids can be heavily sativa- or indica-dominant, or somewhere in the middle. We recommend consulting with your local budtender or caregiver for strain specifics when searching for the right hybrid for you.
The majority of cannabis strains available today are really hybrids that can lean heavily in one direction or the other.
CBD Rich Cannabis Strains
THC can be combined with other non-psychoactive cannabinoids for maximum relief from persistent pain, inflammation, and anxiety. High-CBD strains of cannabis and raw hemp flower (another member of the cannabis family that produces high levels of CBD, CBN, CBG, CBC, and others, with only trace amounts of THC).
A compound with a myriad of therapeutic benefits that will never get you high, CBD is growing in popularity as people seek more natural pain management alternatives to opioids that do not carry the pharmaceuticals’ notorious risk of addiction. In fact, many athletes actually use CBD in place of Ibuprofen for athletic recovery and pain management.
While high-CBD cannabis strains are available (look for indicas in this case, and check the CBD content), organic hemp flower makes an excellent alternative for consumers seeking fast-acting relief without the high associated with THC.
We enjoy the hemp flower from Canna Comforts, a hemp grower based in Colorado committed to producing potent, organic, non-GMO raw hemp strains that look, feel, smell, taste, and smoke like the top-shelf marijuana strains that inspired them.
We personally enjoy a bowl of Lifter topped with a bit of Elektra kief (shown in image below) for intensive symptom relief or a Wife Palm Wrap hemp preroll to unwind, but their diverse catalog of available batch-tested strains ensures the perfect whole-plant medicine for anyone.
How to Choose
Choosing between indica and sativa varieties of cannabis (and the associated THC and other cannabinoid content) is dependent on the consumer’s symptoms and desired effects.
Those seeking an upbeat, focused, and creative experience, should select a sativa dominant strain. Alternatively, those looking for relaxing, appetite inducing, and sedative effects should choose an indica dominant strain.
When using cannabis therapeutically, you can use the following chart to determine which THC to other cannabinoid ratio is best suited for your symptoms and needs. Follow our consumption and dosage guides for more on how to use cannabis safely and effectively.
10 Tips for Shopping in a Cannabis Dispensary
Now that you have an idea of what kind of bud you’re looking for, you’re ready to hit the dispensary! Navigating the dispensary will be significantly easier if you know how to talk with your budtender. A good budtender should ask you as many questions as you ask them. Think of your interaction with a budtender as an inquisitive conversation – just as you would discuss the menu options with your server.
What matters to you as a customer?
First, consider what is innately important to you as a customer. Is it price, convenience, potency, cleanliness, testing data – the list goes on. Only you know what matters to you as a consumer. What’s important to understand is that every option is available to you in the dispensary.
Even in legal markets there are extreme variations in price ($20-$55+ an eighth), quality, cultivation practices, etc. This is your opportunity to vote with your dollar, so please consider the overall quality of the dispensary you choose to patron. There are several websites and apps that host user generated dispensary reviews.
“What are you looking for?”
Your budtender will open with this line 9 out of 10 times because budtenders expect you to know already – the same way bartenders kind of assume you know what you like to drink. Your budtender knows the products on the shelf, but they are not mind readers, doctors or therapists; they need your guidance to recommend a good match. The more insight you can give on the experience you desire, the better they can pair you with the perfect product.
When you arrive at the dispensary, you will get paired up with a budtender – this person is responsible for walking you through the entire purchasing process, so don’t be shy! After introducing themselves, the first thing they will do is ask you what you’re looking for. Well, this is a tough question when you’re staring at 20+ varieties of flower, concentrates, and edibles.
Rather than freezing up when you get to the dispensary counter for the first time, take a moment to think through a few of the following questions.
How do you usually consume?
Smoking cannabis out of a pipe or bong is no longer the only option. Dispensaries carry cannabis products that come in a variety of forms; flower, concentrates, edibles, tinctures, drinks, pills, vaporizer pens, suppositories, topical ointments – even medicated bath bombs.
Some of these consumption methods will get you ‘high’ while others are non-psychoactive (but still therapeutic). If you know you like or don’t like a certain method, let your budtender know. If you’re curious about a new product, don’t hesitate to ask!
Do you want to get ‘high’ in the traditional sense?
Some types of cannabis get you really high, some don’t get you high at all, and others are somewhere in the middle. If it’s your first time consuming in a while, it may be best to let your budtender know so you can start slow. Many older people find that strains containing CBD help them ease back into consuming again. Alternatively, if you’re an experienced user, don’t be afraid to tell your budtender you are looking for a potent high-THC strain.
How do you want to feel?
The answer to this question will vary greatly based on whether you are looking to indulge recreationally for the first time or you are consuming to treat a specific medical condition. You don’t have to know the silly strain names, just how you want to feel.
Let the budtender know whether you want to feel energetic and focused, relaxed and sleepy, or something in between. As the options are explained to you, take note as to whether you’re being shown an indica, sativa, or a hybrid product.
What do you want to do afterwards?
Regardless of how you want to feel, there is certainly a difference between watching movies on the couch and going trail running. Many of today’s most popular strains are hybrids, which means you can find strains that are both muscle relaxants and mental stimulants, or energy boosters that also dull your pain threshold and enhance your creativity. The more descriptive you are, the better chance you have of finding your new favorite strain.
How long do you want to be high?
It’s also important to consider how long you’d like the ‘high’ to last, as consumption method plays the largest roll in duration and intensity. Do you want a mild 60 minute vaporizing experience or an intense 8+ hour edible adventure? Your budtender will be able to explain the duration and intensity of the high (if any) associated with each product.
How can you use cannabis for physical therapy?
Your typical ‘street weed’ was grown for maximum THC, the specific compound that gets you ‘high’. CBD is one of the 85 known cannabis compounds just like THC – except that CBD is non-psychoactive. Strains grown for maximum CBD are great for managing pain, inflammation, nausea, appetite, and muscle spasms.
Many people find CBD products to be more effective than NSAID drugs like Ibuprofen and Aleve. Plus, it wont get you high, which makes CBD ideal for treating parents, athletes, children, the elderly, and those who want to remain clear headed.
How is the cannabis cultivated?
Cannabis is a plant that can be grown using many different methods. These cultivation practices dictate the quality and safety of your cannabis so they should not be overlooked. Some cultivators use all organic growing practices, while others utilize toxic pesticides. The healthiest, most natural form of cultivation occurs in soil under the good ol’ sun.
Indoor cultivation also produces quality cannabis; however, it is important to ensure that the plants were grown with healthy agricultural inputs. Each grower employs a different growing, drying, trimming, and curing method – be sure to ask your budtender for specifics.
Do you wholesale or grow your own material?
This question piggybacks off the previous one – not all dispensaries grow their own cannabis! In an effort to offer more variety and manage supply, many dispensaries will buy flower, concentrates, and edibles from other companies. These companies may not grow the quality of cannabis that you associated with your favorite shop.
Edibles and concentrates are the easiest products to produce using poor quality cannabis because you don’t actually see the green flowers they were made from. Make sure you ask about the quality and type of cannabis being used to make different products. Regardless of the grower, the ingredients must be listed on the label (and many states include the grower information as well) so you can always confirm for yourself.
Don’t feel bad about bombarding your budtender with questions, their sole job is to cater to you. If you have an exceptional budtender, be sure to tip them – they’re service workers just like a bartender or waiter. Keep in mind that not all budtenders are equal. If you get a sub-par budtender, it’s important that you be educated enough to help yourself. Your first trip to the dispensary will be exciting – you’ll likely end up purchasing more than you intended. That’s the beauty of choice!
Navigating the dispensary is easy if you know what you’re looking for and how to talk to your budtender. If you need to be productive all day and seek some extra energy and creativity, try a sativa strain. If you’re looking to settle down and relax — mentally and physically — for the evening, grab yourself an indica strain. If you want a great anytime smoke and a balanced high, try a hybrid strain. If you are seeking therapeutic benefits without the high, try a strain of organic hemp flower (like this Lifter strain) rather than cannabis.